Track & Field: Big Walnut's Jackson Podraza soars to next level
Jackson Podraza of the Big Walnut boys track and field team made many jumps throughout his high school career, but his last may have been the biggest.
The senior cleared 6 feet, 6 inches in the high jump to place fourth in Division I at the indoor state meet March 7 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva.
Two days later, college scholarship offers began rolling in.
"I had about 10 schools calling me saying, 'Hey, sorry you don't have an outdoor season, but we'd love to talk to you about competing for us,' " Podraza said. "Before that, I had maybe one school interested in me."
Podraza was surprised by the attention he garnered but also realized that colleges needed to make decisions sooner rather than later after the cancellation of the spring sports season because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Cincinnati and Akron were among the Division I programs to show interest, but one school topped his wish list.
Podraza already had been accepted to Ohio State, so he wondered if the new attention would help his standing with the Buckeyes. He asked, and the coaches responded.
"They immediately replied back, saying they had heard of me and asked for videos of my jumps," Podraza said. "I sent the videos, and they said, 'We'd love for you to be a part of our team.' "
With little time to weigh his options, Podraza committed to Ohio State without a scholarship offer. However, he could receive a scholarship after his freshman season, depending on his performance, he said.
"Ohio State is where my heart's always been," he said. "I've always wanted to go there and to be part of an athletic team is even better."
Losing his senior season with the Golden Eagles hasn't slowed Podraza's training. In fact, he's been even more ambitious, focusing on the decathlon, which consists of the 100 meters, 110 hurdles, 400, 1,500, long jump, high jump, shot put, discus, javelin and pole vault.
"I've told this to Ohio State and they've expressed a desire to make me a decathlete, so I think I'll be training for that while still trying to better my high jump," he said.
Podraza cleared a personal-best 6-7 during an outdoor meet early last season, but a back injury hampered his ability to soar higher.
"It was just a steady decline from there," he said. "I was just trying to do my best and finish out the season. But I couldn't really improve because I couldn't arch my back very well. Last summer, I did a lot of strength training and flexibility on my back and hips to get prepared for this season."
Podraza went on to represent the boys team at regional, finishing fifth in the high jump (6-4) to fall one spot shy of the state meet. The fourth-place finisher, Mount Vernon's Cory Berg, also cleared 6-4 but did so on his first attempt. Podraza cleared the height on his third try.
Berg won this year's indoor state title by clearing 6-9.
Also last season, Podraza finished third (6-3) in the district 2 meet and captured the OCC-Capital Division title (6-3).
A three-sport athlete, Podraza competed in cross country last fall and was a starter for the boys basketball team this past winter. He averaged 7.2 points and was named honorable mention all-league as a forward for the basketball team, which finished 13-10 to post a winning record for the second consecutive season.
"There was a lot of sadness about not having a (spring sports) season," Podraza said. "But you can't worry about things outside of your control. You just have to get ready for the future."